The legal termination of a marriage is not always referred to as “divorce.” In several states, couples have various divorce options available to them. The type of divorce that is right for you may depend on your relationship with your spouse. For instance, if you and your spouse are in agreement about everything, your divorce might be classified as “uncontested.” However, if you are unaware of your spouse’s location, you may need a “default divorce.”
In the United States, divorce laws vary by state, as each state has its own laws and procedures for divorce. These laws cover filing requirements, grounds for divorce, property division, child custody, and support. Although some states share similar laws, there can be significant differences between them. For example, some states require a waiting period before a divorce can be finalized, while others do not. Some states allow fault-based divorce, while others only allow no-fault divorce.
The most common types of divorce are described to help you select the right one for you. Despite their differences, they all culminate in the issuance of a divorce decree that formally dissolves the marriage.
Default divorce is a legal process where one spouse initiates divorce proceedings, but the other spouse does not respond to the divorce petition. The non-responsive spouse can be served by the filing spouse or served by publication, depending on the state’s laws. If the non-responsive spouse still does not respond, the filing spouse can request a default judgment from the court, which will grant the divorce and all remedies requested by the filing spouse, including custody and child support arrangements, based on the state’s standards and the child’s best interests.
The divorce process starts with one spouse filing a divorce petition and serving copies of it and a summons to the other spouse. If the recipient spouse fails to respond within the required time frame, the filing spouse can request a default divorce from the court. However, the filing spouse must still follow the procedural requirements to provide notice to the other spouse. While the default divorce process is usually faster than traditional divorce, it’s important to understand that the court will grant the divorce and all remedies requested by the filing spouse based on the state’s laws.
Fault and No-Fault Divorce
In the United States, there are two types of divorce: fault-based divorce and no-fault divorce. In a fault-based divorce, one spouse must provide evidence of a specific wrongdoing committed by the other spouse, such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment. The court can grant the divorce based on these grounds if it agrees that the wrongdoing occurred. Proving fault can be a difficult, time-consuming, and expensive process, and it may also be emotionally draining for both spouses.
In contrast, a no-fault divorce is simpler and less contentious. The filing spouse simply needs to state that the marriage is irretrievably broken or that the couple has irreconcilable differences. The court will grant the divorce based on this statement, regardless of whether or not the other spouse agrees. There is no need to provide evidence of wrongdoing, making the process faster and less expensive than a fault-based divorce. No-fault divorce laws were first introduced in the United States in the 1970s, and today, all states offer some form of no-fault divorce.
However, there are also some drawbacks to a no-fault divorce. Since there is no need to prove fault, it may be more difficult to obtain certain types of financial or property settlements. For example, in a fault-based divorce, a spouse who committed adultery may not be entitled to receive alimony payments. In addition, a no-fault divorce may not be appropriate in cases where one spouse has committed serious wrongdoing, such as abuse or adultery.
Ultimately, the decision to file for a fault-based or no-fault divorce will depend on the specific circumstances of each case. Couples who are considering divorce should consult with a qualified attorney to determine the best course of action for their situation. In some cases, proving fault may be necessary to obtain a favorable outcome, while in others, a no-fault divorce may be the best option to minimize emotional and financial stress.
Contested divorces arise when couples disagree on crucial matters such as child custody or property division. If a settlement agreement can’t be reached, a court trial will ensue, where a judge decides the issues for them. The process can be stressful, time-consuming, and expensive with high attorney fees. While most cases settle before trial, contested divorces become more complicated when either spouse disagrees with any term of the proposed settlement agreement.
The process can take years to resolve and may require hiring independent experts to resolve lingering issues. It’s essential to avoid fighting in such cases as it can save time, money, and help maintain a good relationship with the ex-spouse. Couples are advised to work with an attorney to navigate the courts and ensure that nothing is left on the table.
Uncontested divorce is an option for couples in which they agree on all divorce-related terms, including custody, property division, child support, and alimony. This is achieved through the creation of a legally binding settlement agreement, which both parties must sign. To qualify for an uncontested divorce, both parties must settle their differences and create a property settlement agreement.
This agreement is then incorporated into the divorce petition, which can be filed jointly or by one spouse, depending on the state’s procedure. Many states have specific forms for uncontested divorces, and courts fast-track these cases, with some states not even requiring a court appearance.
Each state has specific procedures to finalize an uncontested divorce, and it is one of the fastest ways to end a marriage as it does not require a trial. The documents are filed, and the court waits for the state’s mandatory waiting period to expire before finalizing the divorce.
Unlike contested divorces, uncontested divorces are generally less expensive and less stressful for both parties. The uncontested divorce process is designed to be straightforward and efficient, making it a popular choice for couples who can agree on all divorce-related terms.
Pro Se Divorce
Pro Se Divorce in the United States refers to a do-it-yourself divorce, where one or both spouses represent themselves in court without the assistance of an attorney. Pro se is a Latin term that means “for oneself” or “on one’s own behalf.” While it is possible to file for a pro se divorce in most states, it’s important to note that divorce laws and procedures can be complex, and errors in paperwork or procedures can result in delays or complications in the divorce process.
Pro se divorce may be appropriate for couples who have a simple and uncontested divorce with no children, few assets, and no major disagreements over property division, spousal support, or other issues. However, it’s recommended that individuals seek legal advice before attempting to file for a pro se divorce to ensure they understand their rights and obligations and to avoid potential legal pitfalls.
Mediated divorce is a type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in which a neutral third party, called a mediator, assists couples in negotiating the terms of their divorce. Unlike traditional divorce litigation, the mediator does not make decisions for the couple but rather facilitates communication and helps the couple reach their own agreement.
This process is typically less expensive, less adversarial, and quicker than traditional litigation, giving couples more control over the outcome of their divorce, which is especially important for those with children or complex financial issues.
Co-mediated divorce is another option in which two mediators with different areas of expertise work together to facilitate the negotiation process. Although mediation is usually voluntary, some states may require or encourage it before proceeding to court. However, mediation may not be appropriate for all couples, especially those with a history of domestic violence or abuse, as traditional divorce may be necessary to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being.
In some cases, couples may need to consult with their own attorneys during the mediation process to ensure their legal rights are protected.
Summary divorce is an expedited and simplified procedure that is available in many US states. It is designed for couples who meet certain criteria, such as short marriages (usually five years or less), no minor children, limited assets, and little to no debt. Both spouses must agree to the divorce and file the necessary court papers jointly. The process usually involves giving up the right to spousal support after the divorce.
The paperwork required for a summary divorce is minimal, making it easy to do without the help of a lawyer. Couples can obtain the necessary forms from their state court’s official website or the local family court clerk’s office. Once the petition for summary divorce is filed, the couple must prepare a settlement agreement for the court to review and sign. After that, the divorce is final.
Although the summary divorce process varies by state, it is generally less time-consuming and less expensive than other types of divorce. Some states may allow couples with children or property to use the summary divorce process, but availability and rules vary. Overall, summary divorce is a convenient option for couples who meet the criteria and want a quick and easy divorce process.
Collaborative divorce is a type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in which spouses hire their own attorneys trained in collaborative divorce. The attorneys work together with the sole purpose of reaching a settlement. Both spouses agree to disclose all relevant information and attend as many meetings as necessary to try to reach a resolution. If the case cannot be settled through collaboration, the original attorneys will withdraw from the case, and the spouses will have to hire different attorneys to go to court.
During the collaborative divorce process, the couple may be asked to hire other professionals, such as financial or child custody experts, to assist in the negotiations. This process is less formal than going to court and allows for more flexibility. However, collaborative divorce may not be suitable for couples with an imbalance of power or in cases of domestic violence.
Once a settlement is reached, the attorneys will present a final settlement agreement to the judge for approval. If the couple cannot agree on all terms, they may still seek help from the court.
Collaborative divorce is often compared to mediation, which is a more informal process where lawyers may not be involved. While both options have their advantages and disadvantages, collaborative divorce is best for couples willing to work together to resolve their issues without the court’s involvement.
Arbitrated divorce is a type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process in which a neutral third party, called an arbitrator, makes decisions regarding the terms of the divorce settlement. The arbitrator is usually a lawyer, retired judge, or other legal professional. Both spouses agree to submit their disputes to the arbitrator, who acts as a private judge and makes binding decisions that are enforceable in court.
Arbitration can be used to resolve all issues in the divorce, including property division, child custody, and support. The process is less formal and less time-consuming than going to court, and the parties have more control over the outcome.
However, the decision of the arbitrator is final and cannot be appealed except in very limited circumstances, so it is important for the parties to carefully consider the arbitrator they choose and the terms of the arbitration agreement.
If you don’t want to end your marriage permanently, there are various alternatives to divorce in the USA. One such option is a “trial separation,” which is a non-legal arrangement where couples live separately. However, it doesn’t sever financial ties or remove the obligation to support children. Alternatively, some states allow for legal separation, where a judge decides on issues such as property division, alimony, and child custody and support.
Couples can also present a proposed settlement agreement for approval. This process is similar to divorce but doesn’t terminate the marriage, meaning remarriage is not allowed. Many states offer couples several options for taking time apart, either temporarily or permanently, or the option to erase the marriage altogether, providing an alternative to divorce.
Same-sex divorce is the legal process of ending a marriage between two individuals of the same sex. It is governed by the same laws and procedures as heterosexual divorce in the United States. Same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States in 2015, and since then, same-sex couples have been able to get married and divorce just like any other married couple.
Same-sex divorce involves the same issues as any divorce, such as property division, spousal support, and child custody and support if applicable. The process can vary depending on the state, but generally, it involves filing a petition for divorce, reaching a settlement agreement or attending a trial, and obtaining a final divorce decree from the court.
Annulment divorce is a legal process that declares a marriage invalid and means that, in the eyes of the law, the marriage never existed. Unlike divorce, which terminates a valid marriage, annulment can only be granted under certain specific circumstances, such as force or fraud, bigamy, underage spouse, incapacity, kinship, or failure to consummate the marriage.
To obtain an annulment, you will need to file a petition with your local court, and the judge will examine the evidence and determine if you meet your state’s requirements. Annulment can address child custody and support, but it will not delegitimize any children born during the marriage, and you waive your right to spousal support.